[Fanart of this chapter made by: LadyMid0ri (https://www.deviantart.com/ladymid0ri) on DeviantArt.]
It was early in the morning when two identical looking dark haired boys could be spotted jumping from roof to roof, above the busy streets of Konohagakure, competitively racing towards their common destination. The air between them was heavy and silent as usual, but surprisingly enough, the playfulness and quirkiness of their childish competition was still there. Because no matter in which state their relationship was in, there was one thing that remained unchanged. And that was the blood running through their veins that had tied them together since birth; their brotherhood.
The truth was that, despite their differences, the bond of brotherhood was so strong between the two of them, that neither could truly despise the other, no matter how much they wished to do so. After all, their goals seemed so similar, yet so different. And they were both centered around a single person.
A person they both used to know.
“Hey, Naoki...” the older of the two boys called out to his brother, without turning to look at him or remove his eyes from the goal at all. “You sure have gotten slow.”
“Eh, what is this? It’s very rare for you to be initiating a conversation lately, Sasuke.” the boy named Naoki replied with an ambiguous yet innocent-looking smile. “Then again, even when you do, you only say things like that.” he then sighed. “And to respond to your statement, it is your fault I am being slow. You dragged me out of bed way before the sun even rises and had me help you with breakfast when I was still sleepy. Why do we even have to leave home so early anyway? Class will not start until one hour later.”
“Quit your whining.” Sasuke fired back. “That's because you let them follow you around and squeal in our ears first thing in the morning every single day...those girls.”
“Don’t be mean. I think they only want to be our friends.” the younger boy reasoned. “But if you hate it so much, then why do you insist on going to the Academy together? You could have just left alone earlier and I’d show up later with the girls. Besides, I wanted to see if she was there this time-”
“As if you are reliable enough to be left alone.” the other boy barked, cutting his brother off. “You can’t even do the chores properly or cook edible food whatsoever, so what would actually happen if I left you alone every morning?” he added with a playful smirk. “You cannot survive without me.”
“Ah, that’s true.” Naoki sulked. “Okay, I get it...I admit defeat.” he added before wearing a smile of his own. “But definitely not on this current race!”
“Tch.” Sasuke spat as he watched his younger, by one year, brother getting ahead of him in the spur of a moment. Determined not to let him have his way, he made a higher jump to the next rooftop, effectively catching up with the other boy, who simply scowled in response.
It was then that he noticed a long sheathed katana strapped on his younger brother’s waist, one he had seen him carry since their early childhood. Yet, every time his gaze landed on it, a horde of dark and painful memories was echoing within his mind like a broken record. And they were memories he wished he could just erase already.
“That katana-” he muttered. “You’re still carrying it with you after all these years, even when you are not training with it.”
“Of course.” Naoki then smiled in a nostalgic manner. “How could I not? It is a part of me, after all.”
“You always say that.” Sasuke responded impassively, before letting his eyes turn fierce in an instant. “Is it because he gave it to you as a birthday gift?”
“That is a reason too, but it runs a bit deeper than that.” the boy admitted with a depressing look momentarily passing through his dark eyes. “Up until now, it’s been...a secret between me and him. It is not something I can go around and say freely. You understand, don’t you?”
“I do understand, actually.” the older one of the two muttered in disgust. “It is yet another of the many secrets you two were so eager to hide from me. Like the fact that he was training with you in secret, while I had to beg for just an ounce of his attention.” he then spat. “You were always his favourite and the one he pampered the most, and yet look at how it turned out for you too.” he mocked. “The fact that you still love and support him so passionately is simply pathetic and laughable, if you ask me.”
“Training in secret, huh?” Naoki reminisced with a smile, choosing to ignore his brother’s harsh words. “Thinking about it now, that katana was the sole reason why I ever got that chance.”
“...Huh?” Sasuke blinked in confusion. “What are you talking about all of a sudden?”
“Hm, what indeed-” the younger sibling mumbled. “I think it is about time I told you about this katana. It might as well make things more interesting, don’t you think?”
“How should I know?” the other one closed his eyes and replied with a sigh. “You are the one who started to bring up random topics from the past out of nowhere.”
Naoki only chuckled cryptically, before clapping his hands as if having come up with an idea, and turned to his older brother as they both landed on the ground.
“Well then, how about a small story?” he proposed. “I have a feeling you will find it to be a very interesting one.”
Upon receiving a glare as a reply from Sasuke, the boy could only sigh in defeat as he went forward, but he went ahead to tell the story anyway. And he did so with more than just a nostalgic expression on his face.
“It all happened 6 years ago.”
A 5-year-old Naoki had just finished the lunch his mother had made him and with impatience, he had ran towards his small room in order to retrieve the wooden sword he used for training. He then walked up to his mother who was cleaning the kitchen and spoke up in an eager tone.
“Mama! Have you seen Itachi-nii-san?! He promised he would be here to celebrate my birthday with me today!”
The woman smiled tenderly at her youngest son’s energy and patted his head apologetically.
“I’m sorry, Naoki. Itachi is currently on a mission they assigned him in the very last moment, and probably won’t be back until tomorrow morning. Why don’t you go play with Sasuke instead? Maybe you can celebrate your birthday together in your brother’s place.”
“I don’t want to. Sasuke is always mean to me and always tries to keep me away from Itachi-nii-san! So, tell me, where did he go for his mission? Please tell me!” the young child whined making his mother sigh in defeat.
“He went to the east forest in order to take care of a group of bad people and retrieve a stolen treasure. However, there are some skilled shinobi among them so this mission is dangerous. Please don’t be reckless and-” the woman began saying but was instantly cut off by the young boy running off the house in a hurry.
“Thank you, Mama! I’ll be going now!”
“Naoki, wait!” she began to say once again but this time was interrupted by an older man who spoke up as he watched his youngest son run away with a serious expression.
“Let him be, Mikoto. As he is now, he is the weakest link of the Uchiha Clan. He is matching up to the skills Itachi had on his age, but being afraid to use them because he doesn’t want to harm people is inexcusable for someone who is to be a shinobi carrying the name of the Uchiha. And what is even more inexcusable when it comes to this child, is not being able to master the Great Fireball Technique; our clan’s pride and joy when it comes to jutsu. Gaining experience will perhaps make him into a stronger individual. Our prodigious eldest son is the one who can guide him there.”
“But, Fugaku...he’s only five!” the woman countered, but wasn’t convincing enough to change her husband’s beliefs.
“No, he is already five. If he keeps being weak like this, he will eventually be more of a disgrace to the clan’s name. Let him rough himself up and learn from his experiences. That is what a person with advanced blood running through his veins should do.”
The Uchiha housewife eventually gave up the fight and simply watched her son running towards the woods alongside her husband with a small smile on her delicate lips.
“The day will come when you will prove them all wrong, my son…”
Meanwhile, the little Naoki was already deep into the forest while desperately searching to find a clue as to which direction his older brother must have taken. He was aware that it was impossible for a normal shinobi, let alone him, to trace his brother, but he did not give up nonetheless. And so, he began searching for other clues that would help him with his mission, such as possible footprints, torn clothing or signs of fighting. He, of course, found none of the above and continued wandering aimlessly for a few hours, until he realized he was lost deep inside the forest. Scared to walk through the forest deep into the night, he desperately searched for a way back home, until the sound of loud voices reached his ears. Using his natural speed, he climbed up to a tree and jumped from branch to branch in order to get closer to the source of the sound. Once the landscape became clearer, Naoki remained on a high tree branch as he examined the area with his jet black eyes, before the sound of the voices caught his attention again. He couldn’t make out what they were saying but from the way their camp was set and the clothes they were wearing, he could tell they were people coming from the mountains.
‘Could they be the bad people Itachi-nii-san is looking for? If that’s the case then some among them might definitely be shinobi. I wonder from which village they come from.’ he thought to himself while trying to be as silent as possible.
However, his cover didn’t last for long and the young child’s eyes widened in fear as he felt an ominous presence behind him. He slowly turned around to face the man, only to witness him wearing a forehead protector with what seemed to be two stones on it.
‘That sign...I’ve seen it on books before. Iwagakure? So he is one of the shinobi!’
“It looks like we have an uninvited guest here.” the man spoke as he grabbed the young child by the hair and jumped down of the tree as he dragged him towards the rest of his men.
Naoki cried in pain as he felt his ebony black hair being pulled harshly while trying his best to resist the tight grip the shinobi had on him, but his resistance was proven futile since it only hurt him more rather than helping him break free. Still, as the Iwa shinobi let him down and the rest of the men circled around him, Naoki tried his best to calm himself down and think of an escape route as fast as possible before he was beaten to death by the men who were glancing at him as if he was prey. In order to give himself some more time to think, he made an effort of speaking with them in order to find out more about his brother’s mission.
“Wh-Who are you guys? You are from another village, right? What do you want?”
The Iwa shinobi laughed mockingly at the boy’s question and kicked his side harshly. The young Uchiha groaned in pain, but tried to suppress it and glance straight into the smirking man in front of him who spoke up.
“Hehe, to think Konoha has stooped so low as to send children who can’t fight to spy on us. Just what is that Hokage thinking? I suppose I can answer your questions though since you are going to die soon.” the man bragged. “I am a former Iwa shinobi and my goal is this very katana.” the man said as he pointed to a certain item.
At his words, Naoki turned his attention to where he was pointing, to see an elegant looking katana in a monochrome sheath that had two traditional dragons engraved on it. Strangely enough, the boy found himself captivated by the sight and he couldn’t avert his eyes from it even if he wanted to. It was as if an invisible force was dragging him towards it and he was about to raise a hand and reach for it before the severity of his situation downed on him and he shook his head to get rid of the weird feeling before speaking up.
“This katana...is it special? Just now, it felt...strange.”
The man’s eyes widened at the question, surprised that the child could feel the katana’s soul so easily, but instantly regained his composure and explained the situation.
“Yes...you are surprisingly right. Its name is Ryū no Tsume and it is an international treasure for the shinobi world. Us treasure hunters hold it in great regard. It is said that the souls of everyone who were killed by it rest inside it and due to that, it contains immeasurable power. Reports claim that it was originally created by one of the Water Dragon’s claws, who resides in the Suijin underwater caves, and hence the name Ryū no Tsume. However, there's one more thing that makes it special. Wanna hear it before you die, kid?”
Naoki disregarded the threat and nodded vigorously, too engrossed in the story to even be afraid or realize his situation anymore.
“Yes, please tell me what it is.” the boy insisted, not removing his gaze from the prestigious katana displayed in front of him.
The man ‘hmphed’ at Naoki’s lack of fear realizing how drawn he was by the treasure and continued to speak in an effort to dishearten the boy.
“You see, this katana is special because it can’t be wielded by just anyone.”
That seemed to get Naoki’s attention who removed his gaze from the weapon and set it on the man.
“...Why is that?”
“That’s because this katana chooses the wielder on its own. The Water Dragon’s chakra that is stored inside it is the one who decides who is worthy enough of wielding it. And yet, I heard there is a ritual one can perform to make the katana choose them. For that, I will need to sacrifice a living being. Consider yourself honored, kid. You are going to become a sacrificial lamb for the katana you liked so much! Men, keep him in place!”
Naoki’s eyes were filled with fear after those words and he watched in dread as the Iwa shinobi pulled the katana out of the sheath and pointed the tip of the blade on the boy’s neck. His whole body was trembling and at the moment his mind had went blank, not being able to think of any scenario where his life was saved anymore.
However, it didn’t seem like he had been fully abandoned just yet.
Just when he was about to give up, the boy’s ears perked up to a mysterious chant which he only kept on hearing clearer and clearer...louder and louder, until he noticed it was coming from the very same weapon that was pointed at him. And glancing around him out of curiosity, he was surprised to see that the rest of the men present seemed to not be able to hear the sound. Thinking it would give him a fragment of a chance to escape the situation, however, little Naoki took a deep breath before memorizing the mantra coming from the katana and began chanting it with a low voice, not even considering the consequences it might bring anymore.
“By the claw of a dragon...than the hand of a friend…”
The men around him blinked at the boy’s strange chant and simply glared at him before the Iwa shinobi widened his eyes in surprise. The hand he was holding the katana with began to feel heavy and was trembling out of the sheer power emanating from the weapon. Panicked, he glanced at Naoki who was equally surprised as he continued his chant.
“Guide the one predestined…guide him to the world’s end...”
“Wh-What are you looking at?! Stop the kid!” the man commanded his underlings, but it was too late as Naoki was finishing his chant with a much louder voice.
“Bathe in their blood...Ryū no Tsume!”
At those last few words, the katana glowed a bright gold and its weight became even more unbearable to the shinobi’s hand, resulting to him being forced to drop it down to the ground and the men momentarily letting Naoki out of their grasp in order to check on their boss.
The child used this opportunity to slip away from them and unconsciously snatched away the weapon that had fallen on the ground. When his hands held it for the first time, a surge of power rushed within the boy, the impact of it making him lose his balance and fall flat on his back. However, this was proven to be a grave mistake since it gave the opportunity to the Iwa shinobi to catch up to him. The man jumped forward and stomped to the boy’s right leg angrily, managing to break his bone in the process. Naoki cried in pain as he gripped the katana in his hands tightly before the man spoke up.
“You lousy brat, you did something, didn’t you? How is Ryū no Tsume light for a kid like you but heavy for someone like me? You must have used some kind of jutsu, right? Speak now!” he said as he raised his foot to stomp on the boy once again.
However, before he could do that, Naoki felt the hand he was holding the katana surprisingly light, and out of instinct, he raised it in a quick motion, managing to surprise the man. And before he could regain his composure, the boy slashed with the light weapon once more, this time managing to scratch the man’s left eye.
That caused the man to groan in pain and hold his bloodied eye with one hand while taking out a kunai with the other and moving towards him. The boy was horrified at the murderous look the man held and with trembling hands, he raised his katana to guard himself, but knew it was to no avail since he didn’t even know how to use it properly. Taking a deep breath and preparing for what was about to come, the boy closed his eyes in anticipation of the impact which never came. Instead, he heard a piercing scream coming from the man in front of him and instantly opened his eyes in order to see what was going on.
Out of nowhere, two kunai were thrown and struck on each of the man’s hands, making him drop his own kunai and preventing him from attacking the child any further. Naoki’s eyes widened at the scene, but took advantage of it regardless, by using the chance to drag himself away, despite the pain of his broken leg. Both him and the Iwa shinobi glanced around in order to find the source of the attack, but all of their questions were answered when Naoki felt someone land beside him and place a hand on his head. The boy looked up to the mysterious person only to gasp in surprise and grip the katana tighter.
Said man glanced down at his younger brother with tender eyes before they sharpened to a glare as he set them on the other shinobi.
“...What am I even going to do with you?” he muttered almost too silently.
“Wh-What is the meaning of this?!” the man exclaimed in surprise. “Men, seize them!”
Not getting a response, however, made him turn around only to see all of his men lying dead on the ground. Panic rose to his head in an instant, after seeing an image such as this, and he started backing away in a desperate attempt to get away, but he knew of his fate by now.
It was all futile.
“And now, it is your turn.” the older Uchiha said as he pointed a finger towards the man.
At this instant, he began screaming in agony and shake like a leaf, the physical pain too unbearable for him. Eventually, he fell on the floor unconscious making Itachi sigh before he turned to his little brother and sat on the ground beside him. He expected the boy to cry or feel terrified, but all he saw was the wonder that was shining inside his matching jet black eyes.
“...Aren’t you scared?”
Naoki, however, instead of nodding or crying, replied with something that rendered the older Uchiha speechless.
“I was terrified at the beginning and I thought I was going to die, but from the moment Itachi-nii-san appeared, I wasn’t afraid anymore.”
Itachi patted his younger sibling’s head once again and let a small smile grace his lips before beginning his interrogation.
“Should I even ask why were you here in the first place?”
Naoki lowered his head in regret, feeling that his brother was about to scold him and replied in a low voice.
“I...was upset that I couldn’t celebrate my birthday with you, so I asked Mama and she told me where you had gone.” little Naoki admitted bashfully. “Besides, I wanted to watch you fight. That’s why I always follow you around in missions and try to learn things from you. For example, that genjutsu you cast upon that shinobi was awesome too. He didn’t even need to look inside your eyes to fall victim to it!”
“I’ve told you many times, Naoki. Shinobi missions are not a place for me to train you. And yet...I believe it was a good thing that you were here today.” Itachi stated making the child glance at him with curious eyes.
“What do you mean?”
His question was instantly answered when Itachi’s gaze fell on the katana on the child’s hand. Upon realization, the boy became flustered and clumsily handed the weapon to his brother while muttering apologies.
“I-I’m very sorry! I got in the way of your mission and stained the object you had to retrieve with blood. But-”
Itachi took the katana from the boy’s hands and held it on his own, his eyes widening upon feeling its weight. He then nodded to himself as he finally confirmed his suspicions and handed it back to Naoki who glanced at him in surprise.
“It is quite alright. I won’t be needing it anymore, and by the looks of it, nobody else will either.”
“...I don’t understand.” Naoki trailed off as he held the now light as feather katana in his hands.
“I didn’t want to admit this, but I have been here for a much longer time. I apologize for not coming to save you right away, but I needed to confirm a few things about this weapon. As far as I knew, there were no records of how it looked like on the Hokage’s office, so this could have even been a replica of the actual katana and those shinobi would have kept the real one they stole somewhere else. Yet, upon witnessing it react to you and especially after you chanted that mantra and awakened it, I was plenty sure it was the real deal. The thing is, Naoki...this katana has chosen you.”
The boy blinked in surprise at the statement and he glanced down at the still glowing gold weapon and back at his brother before speaking up.
“H-How is that possible? I heard from that shinobi before that this katana is choosing its wielder on its own, but...why me?”
“That’s something I’d like to know as well. But it shouldn’t be concerning you at this point.” the teenage boy revealed, before proceeding to reveal some more. “Now, listen to me closely. Everything about its backstory that man told you was true, except for one thing. There is no ritual to make the katana choose you. It selects you on its own for one major purpose that you will find out at some point in your life. Once it picks you, the only one who will be able to wield that katana is you. I confirmed that after you let me hold it and it felt too heavy to even grip. But to you, it probably feels like a feather in the wind, doesn’t it?”
“Y-Yeah...” Naoki replied timidly.
“Then from this time forward, this katana will not be able to change hands. It will be under your command until you die. If that happens, your soul will reside inside it, like all of its previous wielders.” Itachi explained with a nod.
The boy was taken aback by the information as the situation finally began to make sense to him and he asked once more for confirmation.
“I thought only the souls of the people it has killed can reside on it. So it is the wielders too...” Naoki trailed off. “Then, this treasure can change owner only if I die?”
“Yes, that is exactly right.” his brother confirmed making Naoki glance at the katana again.
“But...you have to return it, right? It was your mission after all. What do we do now?”
“You don’t need to worry about that.” Itachi assured the boy by patting his head, but Naoki’s eyes silently told him he needed an explanation.
“That’s simple.” the older Uchiha began. “The exact orders I received were to take care of the bandits and retrieve the stolen treasure in case I found it with them. Since nobody up there knows how it looks like, I will report that I didn’t find it on their hands and you will be able to keep it. Besides-”
The long pause the older brother made, caused Naoki to glance at him with curious eyes before the man sighed and spoke up.
“If people knew Ryū no Tsume chose a new master, and a child at that, many people would come for your life in order to get their hands on this treasure. In order to protect you, I will have to keep this a secret from Konoha no matter what. Promise me you will keep this a secret too.”
“Okay.” the young child muttered. “If that’s the case then...please train me Itachi-nii-san! I want to be worthy of this and be able to use it since it chose me among all people.”
“I...can’t do that, Naoki. Not just because I am busy, but also because there are some answers you will need to find on your own.”
However, the boy refused to back down this time and gripped his katana tightly in his hands. Without him realizing, tears began falling uncontrollably from his eyes and his hands were shaking along with the weapon as he dropped his gaze to the ground and finally confessed the feelings he had been bottling up inside for so long.
“You...You don’t understand, do you? The reason I am always asking you is not because I just want to be strong or because of that katana. It is because I am tired of being called weak and a disgrace! Compared to you, and even Sasuke, I mean nothing to father! The reason why I truly ask for your guidance is because I want to be someone worthy of the name Uchiha too! I...want to be cool ninja and an awesome man like you when I grow up! Is it that hard for you to understand?!”
To say Itachi was taken aback by his little brother’s breakdown would be an understatement. His eyes widened at the child’s words and he found himself speechless in front of the boy’s resolve. After thinking it over one more time, he eventually sighed and lifted the hurt Naoki from the ground while supporting him in his embrace. Naoki was surprised by the gesture and stopped crying for a second only to witness his brother’s smiling face.
“Alright then. I will train you to achieve your goal of becoming worthy of the Uchiha name. It is a promise.”
With those words, Itachi lifted his right hand while supporting Naoki in his embrace with the left and poked the child’s forehead in a tender manner. Naoki’s breath was caught in his throat due to both the gesture and the surprise he felt over his brother’s words.
“Y-You mean that?”
“I do.” Itachi replied, causing a content look to appear on the young child’s face. “But you also have to promise me you will keep this a secret from Sasuke and our parents.”
“...Why?” the boy asked in confusion.
“Father is the Chief of the Police Force and mother is a distinguished jounin, and have a big influence on our village, so them knowing such a secret could be troublesome for you. As for Sasuke...I have other plans for him. Regardless, make sure to keep that promise. It is for your own good.”
“Yes, Itachi-nii-san.” Naoki trailed off making his brother to look at him. “Thank you. I love you so much!”
The man smiled at his younger brother’s words and patted his head once again.
“...I don’t particularly hate you either. Happy birthday, Naoki.”
End of Flashback
By the end of the narration, Sasuke’s eyes were narrowed in thought as he tried to process the information he was just given. Once he managed to compose himself, however, he glanced at his younger brother with a much calmer demeanor and spoke up.
“Then that katana-” he trained off. “No, more importantly...why are you telling me all these now?”
“Because I don’t want you to forget.” Naoki began as he fixed his forehead protector that was wrapped around his bare arm. “Today we will be assigned on teams and a jōnin sensei will be in charge of us from tomorrow. That means our shinobi life will begin soon, and so will the pursuit of our dreams and goals.” he emphasized, before his voice softened yet again. “So, I don’t want you to forget what kind of man our brother is and has always been. I’m aware that you and I have had more than just our fair share of arguments about it ever since...that night, but I don’t plan on giving up. I will keep on searching for the truth and I will keep on pointing out things and situations for which you have wrongfully accused our brother of; even the unimportant ones, like the fact that I had to train with him and keep it a secret from you. Now you know the reason for it.”
“I do, but it doesn’t change anything.” Sasuke declared making Naoki adapt a more serious expression. “You can reside amongst those fake memories all you want, if that comforts you and helps you escape reality, but my aim and my resolve both remain unshakeable. I will still kill that man and avenge our clan, even if I have to cross roads with you.”
“What a coincidence; our resolve is similar. I will still stop you and anyone else from harming him and prove to you that what he did had a certain purpose and a hidden truth we do not yet know. I will definitely prove to you he is still the hero you and I have admired for so long, so beware. Truth will prevail.”
“We’ll see about that. Everything begins today.” the older boy declared as he stood in front of the Academy gates.
“Yes, indeed.” Naoki added as he took a step forward. "Let the best man win then."
Entering the Academy grounds, the two brothers had one single common thought in mind.
‘I will prove you wrong…’